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The Afghanistan posturing continues

There should be no surprise in revelations by diplomat Richard Colvin that detainees rounded up by Canadian troops were tortured upon being turned over to Afghan officials. As with Iraq, that appears to be standard operating procedure.

While his comments to a parliamentary committee will be dissected for clues about who knew what when, that’s really of little interest to most Canadians. It’s the bigger picture that matters, and perhaps one question: when are we getting out?

Right now, we’re still on track for a withdrawal by mid-2011. By that time, additional lives will have been lost, and we’ll have spent billions. All to no avail. Of course, we were only there to appease the U.S., having declined to join the escapades in Iraq.

Conservative MPs tried to discredit Colvin’s remarks, fearing tales of widespread torture would prompt the public to call for a quicker return of our troops. That might lead to people expecting the government to respect the wishes of a growing majority of Canadians opposed to taking part in the occupation.

This was never a good situation. There’s nothing to be “won,” and history has shown the effort will have no effect on the situation:  we’ll continue to pour lives and money into a country unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.

The occupation is all about taking control of strategic territory. That’s the one and only reason foreign troops are there. Yet we’ll hear nothing but platitudes about democracy and freedom.

At the end of the day – and sooner or later there will be an end – we’ll have nothing to show for it but gravesites and a tremendous tab.
Aside from the obvious wrong of occupying an independent country, there is a purely pragmatic argument to be made for leaving Afghanistan: the financial cost of billions of dollars with absolutely no return.

The federal government estimates the cost of the mission, from 2001 to the current withdrawal date of 2011, at $11.3 billion. That doesn’t include some figures such as equipment depreciation. Nor does it include the ongoing disability and health care costs for veterans.

The war there has helped push Canadian military spending to highs not seen since the Second World War, outstripping the Cold War era.

Internationally, Canada was the 13th highest military spender in the world last year, up from 16th. Within the 26-member NATO alliance, Canada has moved to sixth- from seventh-highest military spender, dollar for dollar.

Since September 11, 2001, Canada’s military spending has increased by 27 per cent, and after the next two years of planned increases, will be 37 per cent higher than 2000-01.
The Department of National Defence has been vocal of late in regards to the 2011 pullout. The government has been less decisive, leading to speculation it will again try to extend the mission – a poor decision, but that’s not enough to stop Harper from trying.

Some will argue he’s been practical: the U.S. is a major ally and trading partner, and we’re doing something to ingratiate ourselves to an administration that views anyone who’s not with them as in league with their enemies.

In opposing the war in Iraq, and U.S. domination elsewhere, Canadians are certainly in line with just about every other country – even the majority of Americans oppose the war.
If doing what’s right isn’t enough reason to get out of Afghanistan, then the bottom line certainly warrants consideration.


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